Widgets of the week: 5/20/2005

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When Apple predicted that the ease of making Dashboard Widgets would lead to a steady flow of third-party extras, little did they know that flow would turn out to be a flash flood. In the three weeks since Tiger was released, over 300 Widgets have been posted to DashboardWidgets.com, and Apple’s own Dashboard Widgets page lists over 200.

Since you probably don’t want to download and try all of these third-party Widgets—even if you could fit them all on your screen at the same time—we’ve taken it upon ourselves here at Mac Gems HQ to find some of the best for you via periodic “Widgets of the week” installments. We’ll highlight some of the Widgets we’ve found to be especially useful or well-designed, and we’ll also occasionally point out Widgets that may have seemed like good ideas, but turned out to be a bit, well, silly.

Without further ado, today’s Widgets:

Air Traffic Control (   ; free). If you’ve got an AirPort-equipped Mac, this Widget displays nearby wireless networks, including each network’s name, channel, signal strength, and security status; clicking the network name attempts to connect you to it.

Air Traffic Control Widget

Scoreboard (   ; free; requires live Internet connection). Baseball fans will love this Widget, which lets you monitor the day’s games in real time. By default, Scoreboard scrolls through all games being played on the current day, but you can also tell it to monitor just your favorite team—you can even run multiple instances of Scoreboard to monitor multiple games. Information on the scoreboard includes the score; the current count (balls, strikes, outs); and occupied bases. Clicking on any game in the Scoreboard takes you to the FoxSports.com page for that game. One drawback: Scoreboard doesn’t indicate which team is up to bat—if you know which team is the home team, you can tell from the inning status (e.g., Top 5 ), but it would be nice if the team that’s up to bat was displayed in bold or otherwise designated.

Scoreboard Widget

XwordLookup (   ; free). If you spend your free time solving crossword puzzles, and don’t mind a little cheating, XwordLookup may become your new best friend. Can’t figure out a word? Type the pattern matching what you’ve got so far—for example, d..ed —and XwordLookup will display words matching that pattern (in this case, dazed, doted, dowed, dozed, and dried). Granted, the lists aren’t exhaustive, but they’re pretty good—by default, XwordLookup uses /usr/share/dict/web2, one of Mac OS X’s built-in dictionaries containing about 235,000 words. (You can choose to use any text file as the dictionary instead.) One glitch I’ve experienced: If too many words match, the list sometimes flows off the Widget. Nevertheless, XwordLookup is a great utility for filling in the those last few spaces in your crossword puzzles.

XwordLookup Widget

BatteryInfo (   ; free). I’ve heard a few people criticize “battery status” Widgets as useless, but I think they’re great. After all, I don’t need to see the status of my PowerBook’s battery all the time, so most of the time the battery status icon in the menu bar is just taking up valuable real estate. (Those who’ve seen my menu bar know that I need all the space I can get up there.) With the appropriate Widget for Dashboard, I can quickly check my battery’s charge and then get back to work. Of the battery Widget’s I’ve seen, BatteryInfo is clearly the best. In addition to being the most attractive, it’s also got the most features: Like Apple’s menu bar battery monitor, it shows a visual representation of your battery’s remaining charge, and you can also have it display the time or percent charge remaining.

Battery Info Widget


Widget “Why?” of the Week

One of the great things about Dashboard Widgets is that since they’re comprised of mainly HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, anyone with a good background in Web design can make one—thus opening up “application” programming to many more people. Of course, this lowering of the barriers to entry also has a consequence: bad widgets. OK, maybe not bad , but things that make you go, “Hmmm...” (due credit to the horrible 90s song of the same name).

Don’t get me wrong—I applaud anyone with the ability and wherewithal to create a Dashboard Widget. Although it’s easier than creating the next Photoshop, it’s still not trivial. But sometimes I see a Widget and wonder, “Why was this necessary?”

Take the Firefox Live Download Counter . This Widget does one thing: It displays the estimated number of times the Firefox Web browser has been downloaded, updated in realtime. I guess I can understand why the Firefox development team might find this Widget interesting, but why would anyone else?

Firefox Download Counter Widget

But what’s even more amazing is that this isn’t the only Firefox download counter Widget—there’s also a second one, called—appropriately enough—the Firefox Download Counter . So if you need an estimate of the number of times Firefox has been downloaded, at your fingertips and up to the minute, you have a choice of Widgets to use. Who says there isn’t enough software for the Mac?

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